Our nation is in mourning again over what is a too-familiar report of a mass shooting incident.
At least 59 people died in Las Vegas late Sunday evening after a 64-year-old Nevada retiree opened fire and hit hundreds of outdoor concert-goers from his perch in a hotel high-rise.
It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, eclipsing the 49 dead in last year’s Orlando, Florida, slaughter at the Pulse gay nightclub. It’s hard to imagine the terror felt by those on the ground who heard the pop of rifle shots and dove to find cover.
While we mourn and pick up the pieces culturally after this domestic version of terrorism, we should be talking about the outsized role of guns in our culture. Shouldn’t it be disturbing that prices of gun stocks went up Monday morning? There are laws to make us safer while respecting the constitutional right to own firearms.
More details are needed about the gunman’s grievance in this case, and how he obtained his firearms. But access to firearms must be curbed for those who are in a rage or otherwise mentally unstable. It’s not too much to ask. And too often mass shootings are followed by rhetoric but little action.
By contrast, our state’s voters passed two separate initiatives after a killing spree at a Jewish center in Seattle and other murders. There is no reason — other than a powerful gun lobby and mistaken fear about losing freedom — that other states cannot follow Washington’s actions. Or that Washington cannot adopt others’ laws.
Initiative 594, which our voters approved in 2014, extended the FBI background check requirement for all gun purchases made online or at gun shows. Washington was the sixth to do so.
The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, which sponsored I-594, has reported that 201 private gun sales were blocked between December 2014, when the initiative took effect, and April 2017.
I-594 covered all gun transfers, and legislators this year updated it to better define what a gun transfer is. This tweak led some plaintiffs to drop out of a lawsuit brought by gun rights advocates against I-594, according to a recent public radio report. The law was upheld at a lower court on grounds the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the scope of the law. But the legal battle resumes for remaining plaintiffs this week in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Also in Washington, voters gave overwhelming approval to Initiative 1491 last fall. This “extreme risk protection order” measure was rooted in tragedy but decried by some critics as a gun confiscation measure.
But I-1491 strikes a balance and may help reduce firearm suicides. Under its terms, an individual may petition a court to take guns away from a threatening or suicidal spouse, partner or significant relative, and the firearms removal action is limited in time.
States must also be more responsive to the mental health needs in our communities. We also need to understand why mass shootings are predominantly committed by men, and most of them white. Better federal research and record keeping around firearm deaths and injuries could help policy makers craft better laws that make us all safer.
In a cruel bit of timing, this weekend’s slaughter came only hours after the 60 Minutes news show profiled U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana. He was critically wounded along with four others during a Republican congressional softball practice in June, and the Illinois gunman shot to death by police carried a list of a half-dozen conservative Republicans’ names, according to the FBI.
Scalise’s inspiring reappearance on the House floor reveal his hard work and courage to regain the ability to walk. Scalise said he hoped his return, and the unity that greeted his return, can help bring members together to find middle ground in Congress.
However advocates spin the tragedy in coming days, one thing is clear: Too many troubled men have access to firearms in the U.S. who never should.
Despite what some might argue, these mass killings are not the price of freedom. This was not true at the Pulse nightclub, in Dallas where police officers were slain by a sniper during a political rally or with the slaughter of 58 people at an outdoor concert.
This isn’t freedom. This is chaos. This is blind enslavement to firearms. This is a society that needs to calmly look — in the spirit of Scalise’s return— for sensible, effective ways to limit the gun carnage in our country.